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February 20, 2020

Canadians always hear that their cities are strapped for cash. Yet a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute reveals that Canada’s biggest municipalities ran aggregate budget surpluses of $11 billion in 2018.

In “What You See is Not What You Get: Budgets versus Results in Canada’s Major Cities, 2019” authors Farah Omran and William B.P. Robson show how municipal budget debates mislead councillors, commentators and citizens about the state of city finances. They compare the budgets of Canada’s 31 most populous municipalities from 2010 to 2018 to the results reported in those municipalities’ year-end financial statements. When it comes to spending, the difference between what a reader of city budgets would have expected and what the financial statements showed averaged 8 percent over that period. And far from what the annual angst around balanced budgets would lead people to expect, these municipalities reported a staggering accumulated surpluses of $207 billion by the end of 2018.

Farah Omran

Farah Omran is a former Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. Farah joined the C.D. Howe Institute in 2017, while completing her Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Toronto. As a Policy Analyst at the institute, she worked on a wide range of topics, including monetary policy, financial services, and fiscal accountability.

William Robson

Bill Robson took office as President and CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute in July 2006, after serving as the Institute’s Senior Vice President since 2003 and Director of Research from 2000 to 2003. He has written more than 270 monographs, articles, chapters and books on such subjects as government budgets, pensions, healthcare financing, inflation and currency issues.